Antibiotics? Yeah, the headline writers are spot-on. We dish them out. ‘Like Smarties’. That’s right. That’s how we do it. The patient walks in and I open up a cardboard tube containing lots of different coloured antibiotics. Then I shake a load onto the desk and say, ‘Go on, fill your boots’.
In fact, when we’re busy, we simply load up a trough with amoxicilin and position it in the waiting room above a massive great flashing neon arrow and a sign reading ‘Help yourself’. After all, there’s plenty and they’re dirt cheap. Are you a patient reading this? Why not come over now, if you’re not busy? Bring a bucket. Take some extra for next time. Take some for family and friends, too. Take some for your dog.
But for really advanced ‘dishing out’, what we do is, we go out onto the streets, randomly select passers-by, bundle them into the boot of the ‘Doctor on call’ car and drive them back to the surgery. Then we stick a funnel in their gob and use a paintball gun to fire ciprofloxacin down their throat until they say, ‘My Achilles tendon feels funny’, or they would if they could speak.
That’s what we do. And it’s awful. Because all patients want is an explanation. That’s all. That’s why they phone the surgery in the first place. That’s why they wait a few days for the appointment. That’s why they leaf through last year’s copies of ‘Hello’ in the waiting room for half an hour with other people who don’t want antibiotics. And that’s why they eventually walk into the consulting room to discuss with us their latest viral sniffle.
All they’re looking for are the words, ‘This is a minor, self-limiting illness which does not require antibiotic treatment, good day to you.’ Then they’d reply, ‘Thank you very much doctor, I feel very reassured, I shall go straight back to work now and get on with my daily business.’
What they don’t need is the metronidazole suppository we wordlessly and lubricationlessly ram up their rectum, and the lingering confusion about why, exactly, that should help their sore throat.
Because that’s what we do, and it’s disgusting. We should be ashamed of ourselves.
Dr Tony Copperfield is a GP in Essex. You can follow him on Twitter @DocCopperfield.